Conversations about women’s sexuality in carnival culture

Conversations about women’s sexuality in carnival culture
Catherine Green

Tackling the culture of carnival.

The Brooklyn Museum and the Caribbean cultural center Caribbeing, are teaming up to address the autonomy of women in carnival at a roundtable discussion on Aug. 17. The panel “When Yes Means No,” will gather five Caribbean Americans at the museum’s Iris and B. Gerald Cantor auditorium, to highlight the ways women have historically been viewed in traditional Caribbean festivities, and the challenges that they encounter in celebrating their bodies. With the digital age magnifying and somewhat blurring the lines of what is acceptable or not, now is the pertinent time to center a conversation about it, said the executive director of Caribbeing.

“Effectively the panel is really about how female bodies are hypersexualized in a Carnival context — in the recent past with the rise of social media the images have become sharable, which can add even more confusion as to appropriateness and boundaries,” said Shelley Worrell.

She said that as these festivities continue to grow and attract more people, it becomes the responsibility to bring discernment and concentrate on safety.

“This year we are seeing a lot of splits in the middle, and more recently women being fondled by a gang of men in Toronto making this conversation even more relevant to the community, particularly first and second generation Caribbean-Americans and non-Caribbeans who may participate in mas festivities,” added Worrell.

The event is a partnership with the institution and the mobile cultural platform headquartered in Flatbush, to shed light to situations that come forth during carnival season, such as consent and sexuality. The event is also part of the archival center’s year long celebration of women in feminism with art and programs. With the West Indian American Day Carnival approaching, now is an apt time for dialogue, said the center’s assistant curator of public programs.

“Caribbeing is in residence all month long and we’re celebrating feminism with ‘A Year of Yes,’ and I knew we wanted to do a conversation about that because I feel that the conversation is coming up in the community a lot, especially regarding the changes around carnival and J’ouvert,” said Lauren A. Zelaya.

The event starts with a screening of “Bottom in De Road,” a light humored documentary filmed in Trinidad and Tobago, analyzing the way women’s behinds are viewed through the eyes of men followed by a discussion.

Panelists include soca artist Lyrikal, the director of faith-based initiatives at the borough president’s office Pastor Monrose, plus size advocate and model Nicole “Zyoness” Crowley, professor and author of “Island Bodies: Transgressive Sexualities in the Caribbean Imagination,” Rosamond King, and Worrell will moderate.

Worrell said that all the guests will share critical input, especially Lyrikal who can add a fresh perspective being an artist who lives and sings about those issues.

“He really understands the distinction between being a Caribbean in the Diaspora and back home,” she said. “As a well respected soca artist who travels internationally to Carnival celebrations and fetes, we felt he could add a really important voice as it relates to the female narrative in Carnival.”

The meeting will present a unique educational moment for locals and non-Caribbean people alike, to learn a few things about the history and culture, added Zelaya.

“There are so many potentials for learning and unpacking the topic, and I think a major part of our goal is to educate the many new people moving in who are unfamiliar with the tradition,” she said. “This discussion will show the cultural heritage of the neighborhood and ensure that the newcomers understand and know about it, but also to unpack issues that are not often talked about.”

“When Yes Means No” at the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor auditorium at Brooklyn Museum [200 Eastern Pkwy. between Washington and Flatbush avenues in Prospect Heights, (718) 638-5000,]. Aug. 17 at 7 pm. $16.

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at